Service of Dónde? Où? Woher? Dove? Onde? Nerede? Gdzie? Translation: Where?

August 24th, 2016

Categories: Communications, English, Language, Transportation

I was born in Manhattan and have lived much of my life in New York City. There are miles of neighborhoods in the five boroughs I would have trouble finding in a car, GPS or no GPS. Tell me where you want to go in Russian, Polish, Arabic, Portuguese and most languages, other than French and English, and I’m lost.

So apart from the fact that English has been the lingua franca in this country since its inception, does it make practical sense that speaking English is no longer a requirement of New York City cab drivers?

  • Should a Greek, Chinese or Arabic driver familiar with a different alphabet be asked to take a passenger to an address on Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, Houston Street or Columbus Circle, for example, will he/she be able to read the street sign to know that they arrived?
  • What about the crucial direction in Manhattan“East” and “West?”

Should I invest in a street sign business in anticipation of a lineup of street names on every pole in the most used alphabets in addition to Roman? [I wonder if the English street name will remain at the top?]

No doubt I sound harsh but my dad came to this country in his 30s and had to learn English from scratch, which he did extremely well. He also wrote beautifully. [His charming accent was to die.] Millions of others have done the same. How many generations of newcomers were forced to learn English before they were eligible for certain jobs?

Years ago I met a laborer who lived and worked in New Jersey for 50 years and if he knew 50 English words, that was a lot. He spoke his native language with neighbors and colleagues at work and local shop owners too. But I wouldn’t recommend him for the job of taxi driver.

In order to work as a cab driver or in most jobs wouldn’t you want to learn Italian, French, German, Portuguese or Japanese if you moved to Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, Portugal or Japan?  Or even if you went there to live? What do you think of this new ruling?





17 Responses to “Service of Dónde? Où? Woher? Dove? Onde? Nerede? Gdzie? Translation: Where?”

  1. Debby Brown Said:

    When I recently got in a cab and said: “Bloomingdales!” the driver had no idea what or where it was! It seems to me most cab drivers I’ve encountered for some time do not speak or understand English very well and they rely on their GPS. So I assume they understand the numbers and can search the destination that way. Of course, there is the smart phone with language conversion that should be a tool for these drivers. One more “joy” of living in an international city!!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Clearly the driver had not had to take any kind of test–in English or otherwise–which is terrible. I’ve heard of people asking for landmarks like the Empire State or famous Broadway theaters who have had to direct a driver.

    I haven’t been to London in years but have always heard that their taxi driver tests are rigourous and my bet is that the drivers must speak English.

    One of my nutty taxi driver stories had little to do with language. It happened eons ago to a friend who jumped in a cab in the West 60s to go to the Brooklyn Museum. The driver asked her if she’d prefer to take the Brooklyn or Triborough Bridge. This may have been a test to see if she was from out of town so he could take her many miles out of her way and jack up the tab which, had she chosen the Triborough, he would have done. Such games give a person little sense of security.

  3. Larry Kay Said:

    I am very positive about immigrants and refugees. My own mother was a refugee. And if it takes a generation for English to be implanted in a refugee family, fine. Give the kids a bilingual education, and be comfy with foreign signs in immigrant districts.

    But this crosses my threshold, which, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, is very high (in my opinion). It’s basic customer service to be able to talk with your customer.

  4. ASK Said:

    I thought this requirement was done away with years ago. About 20 years ago, I got in a cab to go to my office only to find a driver who spoke Haitian Creole only…his first day on the job and I was his first fare. I speak French so we could communicate. I wished him “bonne chance” when I got out. So how did he get hired?

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your mother and her family learned and then spoke flawless English and they worked here–as my father also did–communicating in English.

    As soon as I arrived in Turkey as an Air Force wife I inquired about taking a basic Turkish language course and did so I could communicate and say the correct things to show effort and the right attitude as a guest. There was little need to speak Turkish on the base but I planned to tour the country and wanted to show good will.

    There’s an arrogance about accepting all the wonderful things available in this country and not being willing to learn the language. There are jobs to be done during the time a person needs to catch up.

    I also admire immigrants and refugees. I don’t know how well I’d do in their positions. I have the honor to know quite a few today who work hard and do extremely well. And they speak English.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I was in Philadelphia about 8 years ago and I can’t tell you what the driver spoke but he didn’t understand English nor did he know Philadelphia and wandering around aimlessly was irritating and making us late.

    In addition to comfort the whole idea of a taxi is to get you somewhere in an efficient, relaxing way.

  7. Larry Kay Said:

    My 1½-year-old-level French often made a big difference in France, even though sometimes they had to switch to English. People were often just plain nicer

  8. hb Said:

    I worked internationally most of my life, and not just in Europe or with Europeans. The world is not always round. Some people do not see it that way, and see it as flat, or as a cube. The land of opportunity, America still is, but the traditional patriotic homeland of which one should be proud to be citizen, for many indeed, it is not.

    Instead it is convenient alternative to a refugee camp, and one’s loyalty remains to one’s homeland, religion and customs. Revering, speaking, teaching and preserving use of one’s own language is far more important than learning English.

    One very smart London lawyer I know quite well, even recommends to his wealthy clients that, for tax reasons, they should seek to acquire resident status but not citizenship in the US.

    The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, enacted in the “hay day” of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, with considerable Republican support, changed not only who got to come to this country, but also, over time, the demographic makeup of its inhabitants. Like in France, where the Arab population is segregated and communicates in Arabic, and in Germany where the Turks live apart and speak Turkish, our new immigrants will resist, with our unwitting help, assimilation.

    I’m afraid your wish for fluent English speaking taxi drivers is wishful thinking. As the loser usually says on election night, “The numbers are against you.”

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m not looking for fluent nor do I expect to chat. I’m hoping for enough English to do the job properly and knowledge of the city and its landmarks, traffic laws and streets.

    Fine if people want to stay in their segregated communities. Let them work there too. Why encourage this antagonistic approach? That is what this ruling does. I disapprove.

    We fit like sardines in our busses and subways, on the sidewalks at rush hour, in our commuter trains and many squeeze into apartments like Cinderella’s sisters in her diminutive slipper. We should not have to give money to people who disrespect us to the extent they can’t try to learn our language. It does not augur well for people trying to get along in such close quarters.

    Bottom line: If I’m in a taxi alone late at night with someone who drives me all over Robin Hood’s barn and wanders into iffy neighborhoods because they don’t understand “turn left please,” or “go straight,” I do not feel safe. Might as well take the subway, walk home on the streets, take my chances and save a lot of money.

  10. Hank Goldman Said:

    I don’t know who initiated this new ruling, but they must be completely stupid. How can you tell someone where to go, no pun intended, if you don’t have a common language? Does A person point to a map? Speak into a GPS device? Very strange ruling indeed. Beyond my scope.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Passenger-customers clearly were not the focus of the decision-makers. I heard that this happened because Uber doesn’t require its drivers to speak English. OK–it can do that and you can chose not to use the service. But the NYC Taxi system should maintain independent standards. More than a convenience, many depend on yellow taxis including tourists, the elderly, people who work odd hours to name just some.

  12. JM Said:

    I agree w/ you. It’s ridiculous to expect a passenger in America to speak the taxi driver’s foreign language & pay him on top of that. I would hail another cab or call a Uber! That’s why you should not close the passenger door before being assured the cabbie can take you to your destination. Good question, Jeanne

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Excellent suggestion, JM–and I’d like to add to not closing the door that you might even try to speak with the driver before getting in the taxi! I often say, especially if I have a suitcase and I am NOT going to the airport, “Just to Grand Central.” If the person looks blank it may be time to say, “Thanks…but no thanks.”

  14. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s a lousy idea, but the situation might straighten itself out when drivers realize that failure to speak/understand English will have costly setbacks. Passengers will leave the cab once they learn the drier doesn’t understand the address. He (driver) will either learn English or navigate the streets alone.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Great minds….you and JM see eye to eye and both are spot on.

  16. David Reich Said:

    Like one of your commentors above said, it’s just basic customer service to be able to understand the customer. English is the language of this country, so cab drivers should be able to understand at least the basics.

  17. jmbyington Said:

    David I agree with you both–basics of communications. What in the Sam Hill were the decision-makers thinking?

Leave a Reply